Developing your artistic skills is a lifelong commitment. Learning to draw is at the foundation of that process. To paint well one must draw well and to draw well one must be able to draw from life. Too many painters use drawing as a short hand, barely more than scribbles. For them drawing is simply a hurried step to get to the painting process. Like a little kid they race through their dinner so they can have some dessert completely missing the importance of their food and the main course. What these people don’t realize is that inability carries over into their painting with every mark they make, rendering the outcome mediocre. No amount of expressive paint or pure color can mask an under developed drawing ability.
The way to improve your drawing is to get rid of the 3×5 inch sketchpad and draw at a proper size. Work on drawings in a book or pad 11×14 or larger and practice one drawing per page. Learning to draw at larger sizes keeps your skills at their best. It is easy to draw smaller once you learn to draw large but the reverse is not true. More than painting, drawing the landscape requires translating the things you see not only to a 2d surface but also to value only. These limitations help you learn to organize your image into a thoughtful picture.
When I teach drawing, I start with just the attributes of line quality. By learning to control and manipulate line with pressure, thickness and value many beautiful results can be achieved using contour alone.
After contour drawing the next step is learning to draw with massed tones. This type of drawing achieves an even closer look to painting.
When you are mass drawing it is important to have the proper tools. If you are working with a stick of solid material like conte, graphite or charcoal, make sure you keep a crisp edge on at least one end for crosshatching and fine lines. If the medium is in a wood pencil form the pencil needs to be sharpened the correct way to get the full range of effects.
Drawing paper is important. Newsprint is cheap but not good for graphite. Save your newsprint for chalk, conte and charcoal drawing. Drawing with graphite is better on white paper. The kind becomes a matter of personal choice. If you are just starting to draw, cheap printer paper is a good place to start since you will be going through a lot of it as you build your skills. For a couple of dollars you can have pages bound at your local office store. This makes carrying it and storing around a lot easier.
Next week. A look at process and tools for drawing.